Let me start with this – I am not a psychologist. I am a lawyer – a lawyer who at this stage of my career is heavily focused on estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation. So much so that I wrote a book focusing on estate and trust wrongdoing – The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse.
Writing a book is a terrific learning experience – it causes you to focus on what you know, what you hear and what you probably don’t know. So, I’ll start with what I know, in this case, about the issue of codependency. I know that it is generally defined as a dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility or un[...]
The roots of 21st Century inheritance laws run deep into the cradle of Western Civilization. The ancient Greek Athenian leader Solon made great efforts to devise a law code that ultimately became one of the foundations of democracy. This code helped establish rules for a civilized society. Part of the code addressed inheritance rights. Prior to the code an Athenian could not make a will. At death the wealth and assets of the decedent simply belonged to his family.
Solon changed this. An Athenian, if he had no children, could by will distribute at death his wealth and assets to whomever he pleased. This change was said to show that the decedent could decide “that he esteemed friendship a stronger tie than kindred, affection than necessity[...]
Now this happens all the time. Uncle Buster tells you that you’re going to inherit his house. Now you love Uncle Buster, and you want him to live to a ripe old age. But you know in your heart that when Uncle Buster dies you are going to inherit his house. Uncle Buster let a few other relatives and neighbors know that he was eventually going to give you the house.
Uncle Buster dies. Aunt Thelma, Buster’s long lost sister shows up at the funeral and announces that she’s in charge of Buster’s estate. You’re initially too shy to ask her about Buster’s will, but you’re concerned. Within days Thelma is cleaning out the house and putting all of its contents up for a Saturday garage sale. You stop by the sale and get up your nerve to[...]
We learn by stories. Given our law firm’s position and commitment to LA estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation, we hear lots of stories – stories that many times develop new chapters in Los Angeles County Superior Court. While I can’t reveal attorney client communications, I can take literary license to depict issues of estate theft and wrongdoing that we regularly litigate. In this spirit, let’s go back to June 2016.
My client, “Pamela,” calls me to tell me her 93-year-old “Aunt Martha” died earlier that day in Pasadena. Pamela is the closest living female relative to her aunt. Pamela drives to her Aunt Martha’s house later the same day. Aunt Martha’s caretaker is in the house and at first objects to having[...]
What happened to Mom and Dad’s house? We’re estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigators. We’ve heard this question asked of us time and time again. Why? Well, family house transfers are often ground zero for estate and trust fights. The facts change, but the parties, transfer techniques, and general family shock at learning of the living or estate transfers follow certain patterns.
So how do these house fights develop?
Your mom or your dad is a widow or widower. He or she lives alone or with an essentially dependent adult child. The adult child may be on a Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability program. Many times the adult child has an alcohol or substance abuse problem.
Your elderly parent is vulnerabl[...]
Family members of elderly victims of undue influence - a phenomenon often connected with elder financial abuse - recoil in disbelief when learning of an elder's coerced gift or bequest property transfers. This disbelief gives way to hurt and outrage as the estate thief makes brazen, insincere and false claims to the estate. It’s our job as probate and trust litigation attorneys to systematically gather supporting evidence to overcome the actions of estate thieves. Developing these cases often depends on claims of undue influence.
"Undue influence" in California means excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person's free will and results in inequity. California law considers a num[...]
Back in 1968, my college education began at Santa Clara University. Military service intervened, but since then I’ve regularly represented clients in Santa Clara County estate, probate, or trust lawsuits. When you’re facing an estate fight, you may find it necessary to hire a probate litigator for Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, or San Jose. Not just a California probate lawyer or estate attorney, but one who focuses on litigating trust disputes and elder financial abuse. That is, a trust litigation attorney who tries cases and goes to court for estate trials in the California Superior Court system.
Lawyers and law firms engaged in Santa Clara trust litigation are familiar with evidence, the discovery of evidence, the introduction[...]
What can you do if someone's hijacked your family's estate or trust assets? Perhaps a wrongdoer lied, cheated or stole their way to taking over the family home. Maybe it was a stepmother, a sibling or perhaps even a next-door neighbor.
The damage caused to families by lies, deception and betrayal is often impossible to quantify in purely financial terms. How do you calculate the pain a wrongdoer inflicts by isolating a sick or dying elderly loved one from other relatives - and all in order to gain some monetary advantage? Many times the rightful heirs or beneficiaries of an estate or trust are tempted to simply "move on" and accept they've been effectively robbed out of their rightful inheritance. Letting the wrongdoer get away with what t[...]
What do you do if your inheritance in a trust or will has been taken or is threatened by another family member? I'll start with some guidance that I draw from my experience:
An estate planner is not an estate litigator. This conclusion needs some elaboration. There are some great estate litigators who are also great estate planners - but this is rare. The rigors, strategy and tactics of litigation are a somewhat uneven fit with the more evenly-paced practice of estate planning. The differences can be as dramatic as the style and comportment of a mediator from a prizefighter.
Get a second, maybe even a third opinion. We have seen meritorious and ultimately successful cases that were rejected by estate planners or other estate litigators. I[...]
Providing an objective assessment for the frequency of stepmother-step-children probate and trust battles is elusive - but to ignore it is to live in another world. For us the anecdotal evidence is in. Case by case - Will Contests, Trust Contests, Life Estate challenges, Probate Objections, Deed Revocations or Joint Tenancy quarrels -- the interests and paths of stepmothers and stepchildren often collide. In California, these collisions of interests play themselves out in the probate and civil divisions of our state's Superior Courts.
Anyone living in the real world wouldn't be surprised by research showing that only about 20% of adult stepchildren feel close to their stepmoms. Moreover, studies show abundant evidence that stepmothers and [...]